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Shining a light on the wealthy

08 May 2019

Shining a light on the wealthy Image

By Rhonda Dredge

Cleante and Elise are upset with their father because he won’t give them any money to pursue their love interests.

Cleante is in love with the poor but beautiful Mariane and Elise with Valère, a young woman who has disguised herself as a servant.

The two siblings plot to gain access to their father’s 10,000 gold crowns.

Molière’s comedy The Miser provides glimpses of the social roles played in 17th century France. Unlike Shakespearean comedies, the lovelorn siblings do not lapse into inwardness but immediately begin making deals.

There are so many counter plots and crosscurrents in this comedy that telling gestures and epigrams reign supreme.

Bell Shakespeare company staged the play to give its former artistic director a meaty part and John Bell certainly makes a witty wheeler-dealer as Harpagon in the production at the Fairfax Studio.

He hops around like a flea as do many of the cast in this fast-moving visual treat complete with wigs, flares, frills, sculpted jackets and feathers. It’s a case of using anything that will enhance a pose.

Comedies give villains a bit of space to perform and the translation of Moliere’s rhyming couplets from French tap into the language of insult.

The miser Harpagon is a foul-mouthed old codger who projects wildly onto all and sundry: “Piss off you swindler.” “Stingy bastard.” “Sleaze bag.”

This is a new adaption of the play by Sydney playwright Justin Fleming and he has put quite a lot of Aussie vernacular into the miser’s mouth.

“The trouble with talking to yourself is that the older you get the louder it gets,” Harpagon says a little reflectively.

Just Frosine, the clever matchmaker, is a match for the odious Harpagon, appearing as she does in a vivid lilac pants suit with flared sleeves.

“He doesn’t give you the time of day, he lends it,” she quips.

Frosine uses flattery to win Harpagon over to the idea of taking on a young bride, none other than Mariane. 60 is the new gorgeous, Frosine claims. Mariane even has pin-ups of Methuselah and Peter O’Toole on her wall.

When Cleante rebels and applies for a loan so he can marry Mariane himself it’s at the interest rate of 25 per cent with 3000 francs deliverable in the form of furniture.

This leads to an anecdote about borrowing to buy a sheep. When the borrower realises he’s been fleeced he chucks the sheep over a cliff and has to eat his own grass.

Just one major concession is made to modern tastes and that is in the role of Valère, the servant lover of Elise, who is played by Jessica Tovey and this adds a small amount of friction.

Overall, however, the deception and long-windedness are more suited to politics than drama with the contrivances and reveals applied in a formulaic manner.

Superb performances by fawning servants, particularly the clever and manipulative Valère, steal the show in shining a light on the wealthy.

The Miser, Molière, Bell Shakespeare Company, Fairfax Studio until May 12.

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